Katie offered the rational professional thoughts about the Torry Hansen adoption case. Of course she is right, and yet I’m still left needing to vent or scream or SOMETHING!
This case is quite frankly making me crazy. Maybe because I spend every day of my professional life trying sincerely to educate adoptive parents, or maybe because I am MOM to a now grown child (adopted at 6 from a Russian orphanage) that but for the grace of God could have been this little boy, I simply cannot stop thinking about this case! The mother bear in me is loud and strong in my head.
I’m feeling frustrated with all the extremist views out there. It seems we have vocal people on both ends of a teeter totter and no one offering a balance point at all. On one end we have the folks who have become somewhat jaded by parenting or working with severely affected children who then want to pathologize all international adoptees. Some of these folks are actually suggesting a level of understanding for Terry Hansen and Nancy Hansen’s crazy and irrational actions. On the other end we have ostriches like the Russian official stating in interview that the child in the Hansen case is 100% healthy physically and emotionally. Which one of us could survive years in a Russian orphanage and come out 100% healthy? Come on! (and, let’s remember that any agency who would tout an older international adoptee as being “healthy” with no issues would be labeled as dishonest or worse)
I’m tired of both extreme ends of that teeter totter! So today I’m venting about those extremes and saluting those of you who stand (probably more quietly than me) in the middle of the teeter totter.
To those of you who are on the extreme “these kids are screwed up” end of the spectrum, please walk a bit to the middle. I’m sorry that your children (or the children you work with) have been severely affected but it is important to note that not all international adoption ends with a child with reactive attachment disorder or intense pathology. When you talk (from that side of the teeter totter) that’s often the impression you give. Furthermore, this case is not about a “screwed up kid” but a screwed up beginning in life that affected an innocent child. The environment that that child was in prior to adoption, and the adults within that environment, are responsible for the creation of that child’s behaviors. Equally, the environment that the child comes to after adoption and the adults within that environment are responsible for helping the child to heal and deal. In the tragic cases where at least some levels of healing and dealing are out of the realm of possibilities then it is still the responsibility of those adults to find appropriate help and seek an alternative safe environment for the child. Why is everyone so eager to admit that a negative environment causes the problem but not willing to acknowledge that the environment the child comes to after the institutionalization and/or abuse and neglect is just as impacting and also just as potentially damaging if it is not the right environment? I’m tired of this side of the teeter totter kid bashing.
To those of you on the opposite side of the teeter totter where you think that if you just feed and love a child then everything will be ok please, please, you also need to walk to the middle. It is partially because of you that the first group will not leave their end of the teeter totter. They are camping out there to combat how offensive and off-base it is of you to think that a child can endure abuse, neglect, and the like and then just bounce back completely unscathed as long as you love them enough. They are mad at you because they are sure you cannot imagine their hell. They think you are the problem because your naïve attitude is a dangerous contributing factor in people adopting for the wrong reasons and being blindsided when difficulties arise. People were not designed to live in institutions or endure abuse and neglect and there are real issues that can and do arise from living in such conditions even for short amounts of time. I’m tired of this end of the teeter totter turning a blind eye to the realities of less than optimal care in the beginning of life.
It seems both ends of the continuum are screaming for more education for adoptive parents but that in itself is a frustration of extremes to me as well. If left up to the first group, every pre-adoptive parent would be versed in extreme degrees of reactive attachment disorder, trauma and pathological behavior. That sounds like a good safety net until you acknowledge that the vast majority of internationally adopted children will not exhibit severe issues but most will deal with mild to moderate issues. This would be equate to preparing all expectant parents only for taking care of a child with spina bifida or other serious birth defects and not preparing them for knowing the signs and symptoms of respiratory illnesses and what to do about them. It just doesn’t make sense. Parents that get this type of education often do not recognize the subtle signs and symptoms of less affected children and this in itself can cause problems because the children don’t get the help they need and their issues become more severe.
And when the other extreme talks about education they often talk only about the process of adoption and not the real issues because they don’t really believe there are issues if you love the child enough. These folks will tell you about how to pick a good agency, what to pack on your trip, what foods to feed your child during their transition from one culture to another but will leave out the important information about even the mild or moderate results of institutionalization. This is equate to giving the expectant parent lessons on changing a diaper but not on typical childhood development milestones. It’s just inadequate to say the least. Parents who receive this type of education are the ones at risk for being completely blindsided by issues when they arise.
One of the reasons we worked so hard at Heart of the Matter to put out the Because They Waited education system for adoptive and foster parents is because we’ve always seen this gap in the education process. So much of what is out there tends to be scare your pants off science or just fluff. This always frustrated us because the majority of adoptive parents need an understanding of what mild to moderately affected looks like. Why? Because the majority of adoptive parents will parent kids with mild to moderate issues and they desperately need to be educated on these issues so that they don’t TURN INTO severe ones!
I’d like to take a second here to commend the many agencies who work with Heart of the Matter to educate their families with the Because They Waited system. Because we insist on accountability in our programming (requiring families to pass quizzes that show they understand the basics of mildly to moderately affected children) some agencies are afraid to use our system. They don’t want to irritate or inconvenience their clients. But the agencies who do work with us know that while no education system can assure that crazy things like the Hansen case won’t happen, Because They Waited can reasonably assure that parents have had the opportunity to explore important topics related to international adoption and have been held accountable for at least a basic understanding of those topics. These agencies are in a sense agreeing to stand in the middle of the teeter totter with us. They see the value of education and understand the importance of helping parents to be as prepared as possible for their adoption journey. We are lucky to work with so many concerned and ethical agencies.
Also In the middle of the teeter totter stand at least some of the parents whose children have understandable mild to moderate issues stemming from their beginning in life. Through education (hopefully prior to the adoption) these are the parents who have come to understand the child’s beginning in life and how it has affected that child’s development. These parents do not see the child as “defective,” but meet them where they are and make a plan for meeting their needs. These parents work on parenting in ways that best serve the child’s development. Sometimes these parents need outside help to meet their parenting goals and to best meet the child’s needs and they know when to seek it. Characteristics of these parents might include: tired and concerned and yet hopeful, loving and nurturing, protective of their child’s dignity and worth, gatherers of information, hopeful, committed.
It’s also possible for parents of the severely affected child to stand in the middle (although it might look slightly different. ) Through education (again hopefully prior to the adoption) these parent also understand the child’s beginning in life and how it has affected that child’s development. These parents also refuse to see the child as “defective,” but instead meet them where they are and make a plan for meeting their needs. Despite these parents’ best intentions and efforts this child’s issue are usually not able to be resolved without professional help. These parents become advocates for the child’s needs and seek appropriate professionals to work with the child AND the family. These parents make a commitment to keeping both the child and the family safe. When necessary they take measures to do so. Characteristics of these parents might include: exhausted and concerned, supportive even when it seems hopeless, loving ,nurturing, and protective of their child’s dignity and worth, gatherers of information, committed, a hero who needs the support and understanding of the entire adoption community.
Let’s face it. Standing in the middle is hard work. It’s easier to stand in the extremes. The real work is done in the middle.
Tags: adoption, adoption education, adoptive parent education, Adoptive Parenting, attachment, caregiving, child trauma, international adoption, new adoptive parents, news, older child adoption, politics of adoption, transitions